The Long Road Upward

Posted: January 31, 2009 in Views
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Being an independent musician and songwriter, I am influenced by the world around me. We’re in a recession and times are rough. The economy is hurting and people are suffering. Jobs are disappearing and consumers are generally buying less of everything. Despite these grim facts, I have realized that it is the perfect time to be an independent musician breaking into the music industry.

Let’s define independent in terms of being an artist. Obviously, it means not reliant upon others – self-sufficient. This does not mean that independent musicians do everything on their own, even if they refer to themselves as a DIY act. It means that they are the masters of their own destinies. They retain creative control of their art, they make their own decisions, and they mostly use their own money to fund a career in music.

Now let’s define the music industry by contrasting it with the record industry. Many people believe these two entities to be synonymous with one another, but they are not. The record industry can be thought of as the general retail market of CDs. The music industry is the market of selling songs. People in both industries hope to be profitable (kind of the point of trying to sell anything), but the motivation and means of doing business makes all the difference.

The record industry is closely monitored by the major labels and other large corporations that created it decades ago. Their primary goal is to sell as many units as possible, to maximize profits for the companies and the people on top of the corporate ladder. The main motivation to achieve this goal is greed. This should not come as a shock to anyone. The history of shady managers, label CEOs, and various desk huggers getting rich off of the hard work of music artists is well known and the facts have been documented. The idea that there is but one way to release an album, one road to fame based on an unchangeable model of business: that is the myth.

Behold, the music industry. The song market is controlled by the artists who make the songs, as well as truly independent labels (a.k.a. artists with legal business certificates). The internet and other advances in technology have made this market more accessible to both artists and their fans, creating a more direct connection between the two. In this industry, the road to profit is driven by passion rather than greed. The goal is not to sell more albums but to sell more music.

What’s the difference? Isn’t an album just a collection of music, and if you sell more units then, by default, you get your music out to more people? Well, yes and no, but the difference in perception is really profound and is shaping the future of both industries. Record sales and corporate sponsorship are down. Cheap technology and social networking are up. Not only has it become easier over the recent years for an artist to take control of every aspect of their careers, from recording to selling their own music, but it is also becoming nearly necessary. The big guys just can’t afford to take any chances these days.

So, enjoy the recession. Consider it a window of opportunity. Let Wall Street shake, let the head honchos shiver. Let them all scurry around and figure out how they’re going to fix the mess that their own greed helped to create. Us independent musicians, the artists in control of their own destinies – we’ll continue to hustle and struggle, as we always have, to make ends meet and somehow get our music out to the masses. The music industry will remain on the long road upward, while the record industry tries to avoid the quick road downward.


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